Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027623, Tue, 19 Dec 2017 18:13:00 +0300

London, Lute, kvaka sesva,
Avenue Guillaume Pitt & Chose University in Ada
On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Paris is also known as Lute:

In 1885, having completed his prep-school education, he [Van Veen] went up to Chose University in England, where his fathers had gone, and traveled from time to time to London or Lute (as prosperous but not overrefined British colonials called that lovely pearl-gray sad city on the other side of the Channel). (1.28)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Lute: from ‘Lutèce,’ ancient name of Paris.

In his epistle to Vasiliy Pushkin, V. L. Pushkinu na prebyvanie v Kostrome (“To V. L. Pushkin on his Stay in Kostroma,” 1805), D. I. Khvostov says that Pushkin, traveling, saw the sumptuous capital on the Thames and knew the capital of the taste of Luxury, wondrous Lutèce:

На Темзе пышную столицу

Ты, Пушкин, странствуя, видал;

И вкуса Роскоши столицу,

Чудесную Лютецу знал.

In a footnote appended to his poem Khvostov explains that Lyutetsa (sic, instead of Lyutetsiya) is drevnee imya Parizha (the ancient name of Paris).

There is Van in Sekvana, as Khvostov calls the Seine (a river that flows through Paris):

Секваны, Темзы удаленный,

Средь Норда муз не отчужденный,

На Волге любишь с ними быть,

Где хитрыми они руками

Военны лавры с их цветами

В один венок могли вместить.

Sequana (the Latin name of the Seine) in Russian spelling, Sekvana brings to mind kvaka sesva, quoi que ce soit (whatever it might be) in Marina’s mispronunciation:

‘By the way, Demon,’ interrupted Marina, ‘where and how can I obtain the kind of old roomy limousine with an old professional chauffeur that Praskovia, for instance, has had for years?’

‘Impossible, my dear, they are all in heaven or on Terra. But what would Ada like, what would my silent love like for her birthday? It’s next Saturday, po razschyotu po moemu (by my reckoning), isn’t it? Une rivière de diamants?’

‘Protestuyu!’ cried Marina. ‘Yes, I’m speaking seriozno. I object to your giving her kvaka sesva (quoi que ce soit), Dan and I will take care of all that.’

‘Besides you’ll forget,’ said Ada laughing, and very deftly showed the tip of her tongue to Van who had been on the lookout for her conditional reaction to ‘diamonds.’ (1.38)

Describing his meeting in Paris with Greg Erminin, Van mentions the Avenue Guillaume Pitt:

On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him. (3.2)

In his Ode to His Excellency Count Dm. Iv. Khvostov (1825) Alexander Pushkin (Vasiliy Lvovich’s nephew) mentions lyutyi Pit (ferocious Pitt) who is trembling in the Styx:

Султан ярится.1 <http://feb-web.ru/feb/pushkin/texts/push17/vol02/y21-387-.htm?cmd=p#1> Кровь Эллады

И резвоскачет,2 <http://feb-web.ru/feb/pushkin/texts/push17/vol02/y21-387-.htm?cmd=p#2> и кипит.

Открылись грекам древни клады,3 <http://feb-web.ru/feb/pushkin/texts/push17/vol02/y21-387-.htm?cmd=p#3>

Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит.4 <http://feb-web.ru/feb/pushkin/texts/push17/vol02/y21-387-.htm?cmd=p#4>

The sultan is furious. The blood of Hellas

is galloping fast and boiling.

The Greeks discovered ancient treasures,

ferocious Pitt is trembling the in the Styx.

In a footnote Pushkin says:

Г. Питт, знаменитый английский министр и известный противник Свободы.

G. (sic!) Pitt, the famous English minister and notorious enemy of Freedom.

On Antiterra France was annexed by England in 1815:

Among the servants, fifteen at least were of French extraction – descendants of immigrants who had settled in America after England had annexed their beautiful and unfortunate country in 1815. (1.40)

The battle of Waterloo (in which Napoleon’s army was defeated by the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and G. L. von Blücher) took place in 1815. Grace Erminin (Greg’s twin sister with whom Ada plays anagrams in “Ardis the First”) marries a Wellington:

So little did the world realize the real state of affairs that even Cordula Tobak, born de Prey, and Grace Wellington, born Erminin, spoke of Demon Veen, with his fashionable goatee and frilled shirtfront, as ‘Van’s successor.’ (2.6)

The surname Erminin hints at Erminia, the nickname of Pushkin’s staunch friend Eliza Khitrovo, Kutuzov’s daughter. The field marshal Kutuzov opposed Napoleon in the battles of Austerlitz and Borodino.

In 1905 Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) dies in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific. Describing Demon’s death, Van compares himself to a sultan:

Idly, one March morning, 1905, on the terrace of Villa Armina, where he sat on a rug, surrounded by four or five lazy nudes, like a sultan, Van opened an American daily paper published in Nice. In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. (3.7)

Reading Van’s palm in “Ardis the Second,” Demon predicts his own death:

‘I say,’ exclaimed Demon, ‘what’s happened — your shaftment is that of a carpenter’s. Show me your other hand. Good gracious’ (muttering:) ‘Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...’ (switching to a gipsy chant:) ‘You’ll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man’ (reverting to his ordinary voice:) ‘What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!’

‘Mascodagama,’ whispered Van, raising his eyebrows.

‘Ah, of course, how blunt (dumb) of me. Now tell me — you like Ardis Hall?’

‘I adore it,’ said Van. ‘It’s for me the château que baignait la Dore. I would gladly spend all my scarred and strange life here. But that’s a hopeless fancy.’

‘Hopeless? I wonder. I know Dan wants to leave it to Lucile, but Dan is greedy, and my affairs are such that I can satisfy great greed. When I was your age I thought that the sweetest word in the language rhymes with "billiard," and now I know I was right. If you’re really keen, son, on having this property, I might try to buy it. I can exert a certain pressure upon my Marina. She sighs like a hassock when you sit upon her, so to speak. Damn it, the servants here are not Mercuries. Pull that cord again. Yes, maybe Dan could be made to sell.’ (1.38)

As pointed out by Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), a hassock sighs under the widow’s friend in Tolstoy’s story Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886). Ivan Ilyich’s surname, Golovin, comes from golova (head).

A little later Demon asks Van to move that screen a little and mentions the stab of a sunset:

‘A moment ago, in that gallery, I ran into a remarkably pretty soubrette. She never once raised her lashes and answered in French when I — Please, my boy, move that screen a little, that’s right, the stab of a sunset, especially from under a thunderhead, is not for my poor eyes. Or poor ventricles. Do you like the type, Van — the bowed little head, the bare neck, the high heels, the trot, the wiggle, you do, don’t you?’ (ibid.)

The stab of a sunset brings to mind a last ray mentioned by André Chénier at the beginning of his last poem, Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre... (“Like a last ray, like a last zephyr…” 1794). In the first footnote appended to his elegy André Chénier (1825) Pushkin quotes the first three lines of Chénier’s last poem in his translation:

Как последний луч, как последнее веяние ветра
Оживляет вечер прекрасного дня,
Так у подножья эшафота я ещё пробую свою лиру.

Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre
Anime la fin d'un beau jour,
Au pied de l'échafaud j'essaye encor ma lyre.

In the seventh (and last) footnote Pushkin quotes Chénier’s last words:

На месте казни он ударил себя в голову и сказал: pourtant j’avais quelque chose là.

On the spot of the execution he hit his head and said: “yet, I did have something here.”

Quelque chose (something) brings to mind Chose, Van’s English University. In a letter of the mid-March, 1834, to Nashchokin Pushkin writes:

Говорят, что несчастие хорошая школа: может быть. Но счастие есть лучший университет.

They say that unhappiness is a good school: maybe. But happiness is the best university.

At the beginning of Ada the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (1875-77) is turned inside out:

‘All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

Sekvana + Moskva = kvaka sesva + nom

Moskva – Moscow

nom – Fr., name

Alexey Sklyarenko

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